Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Treasures films now live!

I'm delighted to say we now have five Treasures of the Library films up and running, uploaded to YouTube and embedded in our Special Collections pages.  You can watch the experts talking about the St Andrews Psalter  (1425) with its beautiful illuminated margins, the Statutes of St Leonard's College which decree that no woman should set foot on university premises "save the common laundress, who must be 50 years at least," and the splendidly illustrated 15th-century Genealogical Roll of the Kings of England.  There are also discussions of Gilbert Francklyn's pamphlet, Observations... of the Slave Trade (1788) and of D'Arcy Thompson's annotated copy of his book On Growth and Form (1942).  We are hugely grateful to the academics who have devoted their time and expertise to this project, and to the wonderfully skilled staff of our Media Services Department who made it all happen.  Here's a sample.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Digital Exhibition - 400 Years of the King James Library

With the main celebrations for the University's 600th anniversary just past, it seems a good time to mention that the digital exhibition I mentioned in April did at last get finished!  The idea was to mark the fact that the University Library reaches its 400th year in 2013 as well, so this digital version of the analog exhibition mounted by Special Collections at the Gateway Galleries in October 2012 was developed as a more longstanding memorial of its long history (though of course it would have to be archived itself to be in any real way lasting!)
Research Computing staff were enormously helpful in providing me with a Dreamweaver template, complete with parchment background which reflected the colour theme of the original, and I arranged script and images on that.  I'm quite pleased with the way most of the books open to display sample pages, and the flat documents (a couple of the images licensed to us by the National Library of Scotland and the National Records of Scotland) can be zoomed in on in the manuscript reader.  I hope it brings a few more of the Library's treasures to public notice.  Have a look at it at: https://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/digitalhumanities/exhibitions/king-james/index.shtml

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Treasures of the Library films

Another project I've been enjoying working on this summer has been our Treasures of the Library films.  In 2010 the Special Collections Department published a beautifully illustrated book containing short articles by university staff and others about the materials they most valued in our rare books, manuscripts and photography collections.  We've now decided to produce an electronic version of this in the form of a series of films in which the academics talk about the treasures they chose.  My role has been the administrative one of setting up filming sessions with staff from our Media Services department and coaxing
Treasures of St Andrews University Library book cover Z921.A53T8 -  film coming soon!
people into agreeing to come and be filmed - some have been keener than others!  It's been very interesting seeing the films taking shape, and we now have two almost ready for screening and another half dozen at the "rough cut" stage.  We've been lucky to be able to draw on the expertise of Media Services staff, several of whom have worked with film before and were happy to step into the impromptu role of producers.  We haven't quite decided how they're to be launched on the web - the Islandora repository will upload them happily when we've installed its "Video Collection" module, but we could also put them on YouTube and embed them in the Library's webpages from there.  A few discussions have still to be had about that.  I'll put some links here on the blog when they're ready. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Database Project - St Andrews Biographical Register

I've been fortunate to have Emma Lewsley working with me recently as a student intern.  Emma is a third year Medieval History student and has kindly agreed to tell the blog about how she's been contributing to our new database project.  She writes:

"For the past month I have been participating in the St Andrews Summer Internship Scheme, working at the Library on the Biographical Register, a work compiled by Robert Smart, which comprises biographies of students of the University from the 18th and 19th centuries.  My job has been to tag entries in Dreamweaver, to help create a searchable database, which will hopefully be a useful tool to anyone with an interest in the University, family historians and academics.

As well as covering famous alumni and staff, such as Agnes Forbes Blackadder and Sir David Brewster, the Register also addresses the many students of the University whose lives would be otherwise less accessible.  I've learned about the varied origins of students, from those native to Fife to those who travelled from abroad to study at St Andrews, and also the range of careers they went on to have.  While many were doctors, ministers and teachers, there were also inventors, publishers, and much more.  St Andrews alumni also travelled the world, and could be found in America, Europe and Africa, and many more places besides.  Learning about the fates and fortunes of students who came before me has been an eye-opening experience.

I've not only gained much knowledge about the history of the University, but have also attained new skills and learned about the functioning of the Library, and can now better appreciate the work that goes on 'behind the scenes.'  It has been a very informative experience on many levels."

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Digital Books page goes live

I'm delighted to say that the repository's Digital Books page now contains seven whole, page-turning books!  It's been a painstaking but very satisfying process, and I'm indebted to both the Special Collections scanning team for the hours they've spent placing individual pages on the Bookeye machines, and to Rare Books Librarian Daryl Green for selecting the books for inclusion.

Book of Hours TypFP.B00PH

Books which appear on this page will be there either because St Andrews holds the only known copy, or because it's important to St Andrews, is a copy with a specific provenance of interest, or a surrogate copy is required for preservation of the original.  All criteria make the book "special" in some way.  A link to the catalogue record for each book can be opened in a separate tab so that details about the item can be viewed alongside the digitised pages if desired.  Links to the digital versions of the books will also appear soon in SAULCAT which should make them easier to find.  Books on the page so far include Ralph Erskine's The militant's song (1725), R. Lambert Playfair's An account of Aden (1859), and the Catalogue of books, in the public library at Dunse (1780), and there are more to follow - I am currently uploading the many beautiful pages of the 16th century Auxerre Book of Hours with its elaborate woodcut borders and full-page biblical scenes (preview above), and look forward to adding other titles to the list soon.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Andrew Lang Selected Letters

I've been working hard to populate the repository with the Selected Letters of Andrew Lang (1844-1912).   An alumnus of the University, Lang was an author, historian and anthropologist who was perhaps best known for his extensive series of coloured Fairy books (12 from The Blue Fairy Book in 1889 to The Lilac Fairy Book in 1910).  The Library has a large collection of his letters and manuscripts as well as over 430 volumes of his books, and our Manuscripts Archivist Maia Sheridan has made a selection of almost 50 letters to provide a "taster" of the collection.  Most of the ones chosen for digitisation show Lang's relationship with two other St Andrean scholars, historian David Hay Fleming (1849-1931) and classicist, lexicographer and philologist Sir William Craigie (1867-1957).  A further 10 letters to his friend Mrs Herbert Hills (c.1845-1909) show him in a more relaxed, witty and unguarded mode.  I have very much enjoyed working with this archive, not least the challenge of deciphering Lang's handwriting, especially in the later letters.  The "abstract" field of the Islandora metadata form allows a transcription of the letters to be added and I decided to have a go at providing these myself. (They can be seen by clicking on the "information" icon within the manuscript reader).  I've had fun puzzling out some spidery conundrums, although a recalcitrant few remain.  The Hay Fleming and Mrs Hills letters have now all been transcribed, and I will continue working on the other two sections when I have time.  Meanwhile if anyone has suggestions for the question-marked blanks I've left, I'll be delighted to hear from them!

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Quincentenary scroll, 1911, from the University of Louvain.

Meantime I've been pressing ahead with a much simpler digital display.

We have a superb collection of celebratory scrolls, sent to the University on its 500th anniversary in 1911 by universities and other educational institutions throughout the world.

With St Andrews' 600th anniversary being celebrated this year, the University's web team is developing a special section of the website to record the many 600th events currently underway or planned.   It's been decided it would be fun to display mementos from the 500th celebrations too.  This Islandora web page allows people to see the scrolls and view them close-up on the manuscript viewers.  It will be linked to from the official 600th web page when that goes live shortly.  Read more about the Quincentenary scrolls in Echoes from the Vault

Digital exhibitions

One of the things I've been tasked with in my new Digital Humanities post is creating digital versions of exhibitions the Library puts on.  Last autumn the Special Collections Department mounted a superb analog exhibition entitled A Royal Foundation: 400 Years of the King James Library, tracing the Library's history from its origins around 1612.  I'm now working with Special Collections staff and my Research Computing colleagues to produce a website which will record the "main events" of that exhibition, and retain its flavour. 
Information panel, A Royal Foundation exhibition.

The script and selection of materials have been fairly straightforward, but the "retaining the flavour" part of the project is proving more difficult!  We are hoping to translate the look of the exhibition's information panels - with their parchment background and ornamental headers and footers - into the webpages, and are currently finding that the Drupal page templates provided in Islandora seem not quite able to deliver that.
  And it would have to be said that it's a sophisticated look for someone like myself, not a professional web-designer, to try to achieve!  However, there's nothing like learning on the job, and I'm now about to experiment with a page template from Dreamweaver to see if the challenge can be met that way.  Watch this space for progress!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Our first project: the Douglas Dunn archive

Our first project was to digitise some material from Special Collections' Douglas Dunn archive.  This was suggested to us by an academic in the School of English who was submitting a bid for funding for a major project based on Dunn's work, concentrating on the therapeutic properties of poetry.  A well known Scottish poet, Dunn is an emeritus professor of the School, and the Library bought his extensive manuscript archive in 2010.  It was agreed that digitising a key item in the first instance would be a good way to publicise the archive, and would be helpful to the funding bid in confirming the Library's existing capability in this area. The item chosen was a Red Notebook which Dunn had used in the early 1980s to draft poems, some of which later appeared in his published collections St Kilda's Parliament (1981) Elegies (1985).

Douglas Dunn Red Notebook ms38640/2/41
Work began in December 2012, and after some experimentation with page size and image resolution, we successfully uploaded all 181 pages of Dunn's Red Notebook into Islandora's turn-the-page book viewer, and were very pleased with the result.  Scanning was done by Special Collections staff on their Bookeye scanners, high-resolution TIFF images placed on their FTP site to be downloaded by me and then ingested into the Islandora software.

Basic information about the Notebook is given on this "front-page" to the document, along with links to its record in the Online Manuscripts Catalogue and to other relevant material.  So far feedback from users has been good, with the only problem being that Internet Explorer seems to dislike the turn-the-page function and insists on opening the book backwards!  If anyone has any ideas on how to solve this problem we'd be glad to hear from you!  All the other browsers we've checked are fine.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

First steps: setting up an Islandora repository

My first priority was to create a way to view our digital documents, and I was glad to have the advice of the Research Computing Team Leader, who had been monitoring the progress of the new Islandora digital asset management system, developed by the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island.  The software consists of a Fedora repository combined with a Drupal "front end,"  and for me the beauty of it is that it offers both the Internet Archive's  turn-the-page viewer and a custom-made Islandora large image viewer in which documents can be viewed flat.  I like the viewing versatility this choice allows, and am also attracted by the Islandora Digital Humanities solution pack currently under development, but available soon, which will introduce text-encoding functionality.  I anticipate that this will permit more sophisticated digitisation projects in due course. 

Front page of the new Islandora digital repository
In November 2012, the Research Computing Team were able to download, customize and set up the Islandora solution packs needed to launch the initial repository, and my task has since been to populate it with digital content - the new St Andrews Digital Collections.  The pre-set-up process involved lots of discussions between myself and Research Computing staff as we tried to decide what we wanted and whether/how it could be done, but this painstaking talking stage seems to have paid off well.  The result is a product which displays documents handsomely, and which the Research Computing Team is happy to support.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who are the team?

Photo: iStockphoto
I'm very pleased to be working on this project with the University's Research Computing team.  This makes it an interesting collaborative effort between the Library and IT Services, and one which we feel we are to some extent pioneering.  Research Computing consists at present of the Team Leader, who has the role of Research Computing Advisor, and an Applications Developer, plus a number of volunteers to assist with various projects.  The team has plans to expand, however, and are currently advertising for an additional Research Computing Advisor and an additional Applications Developer.  More about this on the Research Computing blog.  Doubling the team pretty much confirms the Digital Humanities as a growth area in the University, which has to be a Good Thing!

On the Library side, there's just me, but I have plenty of back-up from our Special Collections Department (where all the good, digitisable material is held), and especially from the three part-time scanners who put in lots of work on our two Bookeye scanners and will soon, I hope, be providing me with a steady stream of digital stuff.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

What do I hope to achieve?

The main thing I'd like to achieve is a portal on which we can display some of the many treasures held in our Special Collections Department. It would be good to make as many as possible of the manuscripts, letters, books, images and other documents normally kept under lock and key, digitally available to scholars and the wider public. Like libraries everywhere these days, we are always looking for ways of increasing our visibility and usefulness in the digital world, and this project would achieve both aims.
Photo: iStockphoto
It would be good, too, for the project to prove that the Library is adapting to the changing needs of the scholarly community. As research and teaching become increasingly based on the digital, it's important for the Library to show that it can also make these older treasures available digitally, as well as its more mainstream journal and book stock.>
In the longer term, it might be possible for the portal's functionality to be used by researchers elsewhere in the University for other Digital Humanities projects in which they are engaged. I hope in due course to have a publicity drive, with visits to academic Schools, to show what the portal can do and encourage suggestions for its further use.

Monday, 25 February 2013


Photo: University of St Andrews
I'm a librarian here at the University of St Andrews Library who has been fortunate enough to be allowed to wear a "Digital Humanities hat" for three years in order to try and advance the Library's activities in this field. I've been seconded from my original post in Academic Liaison, and now have the task of working out what Digital Humanities projects we might offer, and of putting an infrastructure in place to achieve them. I plan to use this blog to tell the story of how the project develops, and hope it will spark some conversations with other Digital Humanities librarians out there in the field!